For centuries, birds have been seen as a source of food, feathers and even fuel, and being so numerous, many were persecuted as pests. When There Were Birds is a social history of Britain that charts the complex connections between people and birds, set against a background of changes in the landscape and evolving tastes, beliefs and behaviour. Birds were once key elements of the nation's history, traditions and sports, and this gave rise to a rich legacy of literature, language and myths.
No other group of animals has had such a complex and lengthy relationship with humankind. Birds have been kept in cages as pets, taught to speak and displayed as trophies. More practically, they have been used to tell the time, predict the weather, foretell marriages, provide unlikely cures for ailments, convey messages and warn of poisonous gases.
Although very familiar, birds have often seemed strange, sinister and alarming. With their ability to fly, they bridged the gap between the earth and the heavens, and superstitions were rife because they were presumed to be linked to the supernatural. When There Were Birds draws together many disparate, forgotten strands to present a story that is an intriguing and unexpectedly significant part of our heritage.
Lesley Adkins is a historian and archaeologist, author of numerous critically acclaimed non-fiction books on social and naval history, and also on archaeology and the ancient world. Her books (mostly written with her husband Roy Adkins) include Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England (called Jane Austen's England in the US), Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy, The War for All the Oceans, Empires of the Plain, and The Keys of Egypt. They have been translated into several languages worldwide. She lives near Exeter in Devon.
"A marvellously original slice of social history"
– Daily Mail (Book of the Week)
"The facts and folklore of birdlife, and man's equivocal relationship with birds, are dissected in admirable detail in this handsome new book"
– Sunday Times